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Friday 3rd December, 2004
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    ONE WEEK WITH JOHN GULLIVER

 

Marlene watches as the Hippo goes under

Marlene Dietrich

IN its day, there were few grander venues than the Golders Green Hippodrome – so it pains me to announce the old pile looks like it may have heard its last concert.
The hall, built at the foot of North End Road in 1913, is up for sale – and with venues of its type struggling to make ends meet and its design beginning to show its age, the Hip may well end up being sold for redevelopment.
But what a shame if, as the rumours that reach my ears go, the Hip is sold off to speculators who care little for its heritage. The BBC – whose fine concert orchestra called the place home for many years – holds the lease until 2060 and with an unnamed private owner is offering the freehold for sale. What worries me is whoever buys it will hastily apply to knock it into gyms, offices and flats.
The likes of Lawrence Olivier, Stephane Grappelli, Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Askey, Django Reinhardt and Chico Marx all trod its boards but it was as a home to Radio Two’s long running musical programme Friday Night Is Music Night that it stands out.
Presented by the golden-toned Robin Doyle and conducted by Sydney Torch, Friday Night moved there with the BBC concert orchestra in the early 1970s from the Camden Theatre in Camden High Street.
I spoke to recently retired Bobby Dawes, lead Piccolo player and second flute, who appeared with the orchestra for 40 years – and he told me how much he’ll miss the place.
“The Hip was a great venue,” he told me. The flautist, who lived with James Galway as a young man and is spending his retirement in Devon, was feted by audiences for his 40-year stint in the orchestra.
“It was our place,” he continued. “We could keep our things there and we used to go out to Golders Hill park for some fresh air.”
Despite being on the radio, the orchestra would be dressed immaculately – everyone in a set of tails.
“It was an odd shape because the Beeb put the stage where the audience originally were and our audiences were all up in the balcony,” Mr Dawes remembered.
“We loved it – right up to the point when the ceiling began to fall in.
“It would be a shame to see the end of performances at such a well loved venue.”
When it was originally built there was room for nearly 3,000 – but with the stage extended, it cut the number in half.
And now Bloomsbury-based actor John Levitt, who appeared at the Hippodrome in Arnold Wesker’s play Chips with Everything in 1963 and chairs the Save London’s Theatres Campaign, wants to force planners to safeguard its future.
“We will fight any attempt for a change in use of its planning permission,” he told me. “It is in good shape and has a wonderful atmosphere. Surely this is still a place that has enormous possibilities?”

 


David Blunkett

Where does Blunkett get the energy?

THE question that tantalises me about the effervescent Home Secretary David Blunkett is: How did he find time for his paid job as politician and legislator while in the throes of an affair with a married woman?
Yet, the energetic Home Secretary clearly found time to pad out the Queen’s Speech with a raft of law and order reforms that are nagging human rights champion Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
Ms Kennedy, who lives in Belsize Park, spelt out her fears in a piece in the Guardian on Saturday – that the authoritarian Mr Blunkett intends to lower the burden of proof from ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ – the cornerstone of British law since the 18th century – to ‘the balance of probabilities’, a simpler argument to win in a court. He also wants to introduce jury-less trials.
While wooing Kimberley Quinn Mr Blunkett, may have been thinking too of how he could get rid of a man who is obviously driving him mad – the evangelist and anti-war campaigner Brian Haw who has set up camp in Parliament Square, blasting his views through a loudspeaker. To drive Haw out of the square, where he set up a camp more than three years ago, Mr Blunkett is changing the law to outlaw the use of a loudspeaker outside the House of Commons.
This will be a rare moment in our constitutional history – the introduction of a law simply to deal with the activities of one man.
Hampstead MP Glenda Jackson has offered Haw her support – but it’s unlikely to stop the obsessive Mr Blunkett.
Strange, what pre-occupies the Home Secretary’s mind. Time for new anti-terror laws, time for his romantic affair with a married woman, but no time, according to an email I received on Tuesday, to meet five grieving mothers whose daughters, imprisoned for non-violent offences, died in jail while in the ‘care’ of the Prison Service – or Mr Blunkett, if you like.
One of the mothers is Mrs Pauline Campbell who has appeared before Highbury Magistrates’ Court on a charge of obstruction following a demonstration outside Holloway jail.
The five mothers wrote to Mr Blunkett on October 19 requesting a face-to-face meeting. After they had had no acknowledgement of their request, they wrote again on November 19.
This time they were offered a chance to meet a Blunkett underling in Burton-on-Trent.
Blunkett flaunts his qualities as a man of “integrity” and “probity”. I didn’t hear the word “compassion”. The grieving mothers are still looking for that quality from Mr Blunkett.


Some tender notes for Roger from poet Jehane

POETRY may not often pack in the crowds these days, but there was a tight squeeze upstairs at O’Reilly’s bar in Kentish Town on Saturday night.
Around 100 fans and friends pushed their way into the steamy bar to hear Jehane Markham read from her new book, Thirty Poems.
Jehane, who has been writing poetry since 1974 was backed by a jazz duo she met earlier this year at a poetry festival in Norfolk.
She lives in Kentish Town with her husband, the actor Roger Lloyd Pack. I caught him smiling proudly at her as she finished her reading of her love poem, Valentine, with the lines: “Accidentally, face to face, childlike sometimes/True as swan-song.”
Pictured: Jehane Markham reading her love poem.








The fair Sir Alan

SIR Alan Budd, the man investigating the rather sorry love affair of the Home Secretary David Blunkett, is well known in these parts.
He is a former economic adviser to John Major, Master at Queen’s College Oxford, and member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee – and lived for many years in Laurier Road, Dartmouth Park. His three sons went to Gospel Oak primary school.
He sold his home a few years ago to Four Weddings And A Funeral director Mike Newell to downsize to a flat in Brookfield Mansions that he shares with his wife Susan, a well-known psychotherapist. And as many members of the Highgate Labour Party will testify, despite him leaving their ranks many years ago moments before the bitter split with the SDP, he is regarded as a fair man – and well suited to dredge through the murk that is Blunkett-gate.